Cote, lawmakers look for ways to change vehicle valuation law


State Representatives Joseph McNamara and Doreen Costa met with Warwick resident Rob Cote last Thursday to talk about the development of a new formula for vehicle valuations.

They reviewed Title 44, the Motor Vehicle and Trailer Excise Tax Elimination Act established in 1998, as well as a resolution from the Warwick City Council to the General Assembly in support of revising the method of auto valuations. The council unanimously passed the resolution in October.

McNamara said his issue isn’t with the tax, rather, it’s with the unrealistic values imposed on taxpayers.

“Many people I have spoken with are offended by these values,” said McNamara. “If there’s such a thing as fair tax, this is the least fair. Everyone needs a car. It impacts everyone regardless of income.”

While Costa had to leave early to attend another meeting, McNamara suggested adding a few words to the resolution. The council requested the General Assembly to enact legislation and establish a “meaningful appeal process with criteria, such as mileage and condition of the vehicle, which will be factors for reduction of value.” McNamara wants to attach the phrase, “utilizing currently budgeted funding and staff,” similar to the process for sales tax valuation when motor vehicles are sold.

Further, McNamara hopes to move away from strict book value and go by a formula that’s similar to the one Massachusetts follows, as it uses a declining percentage schedule.

Cote, who spearheaded the car tax revolt during the summer, said following a model comparable to the Massachusetts formula would “greatly simplify” the car tax issues in Rhode Island. Also, it bothers him that the state uses the clean retail values in the NADA book, the highest of four values, which include clean; average; average trade; and rough trade, with clean being the highest and lowering from there.

“We’re going with the top tier,” said Cote. “The way we are being taxed is in direct violation of the law.”

The council is in agreement with using a declining percentage of value and within the resolution argued that it’s unreasonable that the Commission “reverts to 100 percent valuation for older model vehicles.”

McNamara simply wants to amend it to language that mandates or applies a nominal value to older model vehicles “regardless of the age of the vehicle,” as opposed to “older model vehicles.”

Moreover, Cote said he is concerned with the fact that the vehicle value commission only has four members when it should have seven. Three of the four, Rob said, are tax assessors. According to him, the other is a receptionist and doesn’t fit the commission’s criteria.

“The commission is in direct violation of Title 44,” said Cote.

McNamara said he isn’t sure if that’s the case and called on members of the vehicle value commission, his Warwick colleagues, local senators, the Governor’s Department of Administration and the President of Rhode League of Cities and Towns to meet and have an attorney present at the State House to discuss these issues and possible modifications.

“We’ll do a rough draft of what we’ve discussed and get their opinions,” he said.

Cote said he spoke to McNamara on Monday and the meeting is scheduled for Jan. 4 at 4 p.m. at the State House. This might pose a problem, as the vehicle value commission must submit a new formula for the upcoming fiscal year by Dec. 31.

But this doesn’t worry Cote.

“The bills don’t go out until July 1 so I’m sure there’s some latitude,” Cote said. “This is a piece of legislation that can be changed very simply and rapidly, in my opinion. The end result will be twofold because people will not be unduly taxed and fixing this is a win for everyone involved.”


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